International Courts vs. the Nation State

Amnesty International declared that the sentence passed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, on a case in which the Guatemalan government did not investigate the tragic murder of a teenager, tells the whole world that violence against women will not be tolerated.

Maria Isabel Veliz Franco was 15 when she was sexually abused, tortured and brutally murdered in Guatemala in 2001. Her mother fought for justice and, on July 28, 2014, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the Guatemalan authorities had not adequately investigated the murder, neglecting it in an environment of systematic violence and discrimination against women.

Sebastian Elgueta, a researcher from Amnesty International who writes on Guatemala, stated that the “lessons from this case will only be apprehended when the death of every women in Guatemala is taken seriously, and when concrete measures begin to be taken to prevent violence against them, creating a safe and respectful society for all.”

This tragic case highlights the importance of courts and rulings outside the nation state, for they judge whether governments are respecting so-called obligations they take upon themselves to respect human rights and hence legitimize their power.

The first case I researched in the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court was also a Guatemalan case, Street Children (Villagran Morales et al) v. Guatemala.

I was already a libertarian then and I was actually surprised to see that the case of five kids killed by the police, which no doubt would’ve been ignored forever if it was up to the Guatemalan state, had been taken to an international independent court that would rule and sentence the state to compensate the families of the victims, investigate and punish the responsible and take measures to avoid that situation in the future.

The emergence of these courts is important in that it’s at least an independent power acting to limit the state and challenging the idea that the state is the final arbiter of our liberties and rights within its borders. The state here is faced with the awkward situation of being the defendant rather the accuser in a court that holds them up to the standard of actually respecting the rights they vowed to uphold.

In a Brazilian case of a mentally impaired patient, Damiao Ximenes Lopes, who had been neglected and died in a nursing home linked to the government health care system, the Brazilian state was condemned for lack of investigation of the occurrence. Another case involved the disappeared people from the Araguaia guerilla during the military dictatorship, where the Court understood that the Brazilian Amnesty Act, forgiving blatant violations of human rights committed by the dictatorship, was illegal, something I’ve touched upon in other article.

From a radical free market perspective, these international courts could allow us to argue that Brazil violates human rights for not allowing union freedom to its citizens.

The possibility exists because the Inter-American Court of Human Rights can evaluate rights violations listed in the American Convention on Human Rights, which deals with civil and political rights, but can also examine some of the provisions of the Protocol of San Salvador, that deals with economic, social and cultural rights. Among them, there’s this one:

Article 8
Trade Union Rights
1. The States Parties shall ensure:
a. The right of workers to organize trade unions and to join the union of their choice for the purpose of protecting and promoting their interests. As an extension of that right, the States Parties shall permit trade unions to establish national federations or confederations, or to affiliate with those that already exist, as well as to form international trade union organizations and to affiliate with that of their choice. The States Parties shall also permit trade unions, federations and confederations to function freely . . .

Since Getulio Vargas, Brazilian workers have had no freedom to unionize, for they must submit to “union oneness,” a legal monopoly that allows only one union to represent a given segment of workers in a territory. No wonder the largest unions in the country, CUT and Forca Sindical, are firmly aligned with corporate interests.

That’s also one of the reasons the Brazilian government doesn’t recognize the Convention No. 87 of the International Labour Organization. ILO in its own constitution establishes the freedom of union association, but by ratifying it Brazil would have to commit to the application of the principle in its work relations. Article 2 establishes that workers, without distinction and previous permission, have the right to constitute the organizations they deem convenient and to affiliate themselves to them, provided they respect their internal statutes. ILO’s Article 2 and PSS’s article 8 are very similar and are meant to protect a simple principle of union relations that the Brazilian government violates.

Should we secure a condemnation of Brazil in an international court for impeding the functioning of a free union, outside its monopoly system, that would be a very important step in calling attention of workers of this aburd denial of their righs to free association and better work conditions.

Thus, international courts may possess one of the few authorities a state might be forced to recognize, and we can use that to have it investigate the murder of street kids or to have it sentenced for not respecting workers’s rights to unionize the way they see fit. The means might not be radical, but the idea is: the state can’t have the last word on our lives and rights.

Legislative activism will not guide us to freedom, but there’s a law on our side, we might as well exploit it.

Translated into English by Erick Vasconcelos.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory